Readings And Reflections for Christmas Eve
Opening Words/Chalice Lighting/Advent Wreath Candles
As this sacred night approaches, we are warmed by the kindling of our Community chalice… Where a gathering of strangers can become transformed into the company of friends… Where seekers can unite, despite any differences they might hold, and become an inclusive community, that this is a place where a congregation of caring illuminates the personal path and willingly shares the found light with one another.
We light the Advent candles that form a star ….
First we light the candle of a bright faith, a sustaining courage to face questions honestly, and that preservers during adversity- a faith for seekers who are willing to grow beyond safe expectations…
Second, we light the candle of peace… Knowing full well that our world contains only smatterings of peace, shards of justice, and so we gather to affirm the value of peace in our world, and know that it begins this evening, with greater peace in our own hearts, and can radiate outward to all others…
Third, we light the candle of love…. The great remedy to loneliness, the antidote to fear, and that love is our affirmation that caring for one another as offering and being the greatest of gifts we share among us…
Fourth, the candle of hope, knowing that we can see and seek out a better tomorrow, that a hopeful church is a healing place, that hope gives each of us inspiration for this night, and every new day….
Lastly, we light the center candle of the beloved community… That the church is an ideal greater than oneself; that the journey together is more important than the personal odyssey alone, and that having a sense of belonging and acceptance is a most precious gift that we can actively nurture and support Its glowing presence among us. … Welcome, to our Christmas Eve Service!
Readings & Reflections:
1) Angels We Can Hear
One of the most charming and enduring images of Christmas is that of angels… most agree that they add to the “magic” of the season.
When the Unitarian minister, Edward Hamilton Sears first wrote “It came Upon A Midnight Clear,” just what do you suppose he felt when he penned those words, To hear the angels sing!”
We receive one of the best definitions of angels from the father of Universalism, Origen of Alexandria, some 1600 years ago. He stated that angels were “those servants and messengers of God’s grace, given to all humanity, for the purpose of our salvation.”
In more inclusive religious terms, we can restate this definition by saying that angels are those inspired thoughts, feelings, and experiences that draw us closer to love; that assist us in transforming the ordinary into the sacred, and angels are those thoughts, feelings, and experiences that create greater opportunities for inspiration, wisdom, awareness, and inner peace.
The angels of the Christmas story point us towards revelation and fulfillment. Their message to us recognizes the creative and spiritual potential in every child, in each and every one of us. Now it is true that the glorious message they delivered that night was met with wonder, awe, surprise and fear… Quite understandably! Yet, every time we read or listen to this timeless story, on this holy night, we can lay aside those fears, and allow ourselves to become enchanted by the fact that this story, and the angels message is for each of us, each day, and every night… The angels we have heard on high remind us perpetually that the gifts of life and love, of potential and possibilities are freely given to us all, and when taken into our hearts, will serve as agents of inspiration, and servants of truth, hope, and promise in us all. PEL
2) The Gifts We Give
Howard Thurman was one of the leading African-American ministers of the last century. As mystic and prophet, to the People’s Church in San Francisco, his messages are among the most timely and enduring for us…. He wrote:
I place my gifts on my altar this Christmas:
Gifts that are mine, as the years are mine.
The quiet hopes that flood the earnest cargo of my dreams
The best of all good things for those I love.
A fresh new trust for all whose faith is dim.
The love of life, a most precious gift in reach of us all:
Seeing in the acts of each day, the seeds of tomorrow.
Finding in the struggle, the strength for renewal,
Seeking in each person, the face of kinship.
I place these gifts on my altar this Christmas
Gifts that are mine, as the years are mine….
Amidst all of its whirl and activity, may this Christmas bring you To your heart’s altar; there to receive a sustaining grace; the gifts of renewal and healing, the gift of stillness, and peace …
Before you set out again to follow your star….
3) A Special Starlight
The Unitarian poet and biographer, Carl Sandburg, gave us this reflection on the meaning of starlight, on this night….
The Creator of night and of birth was also the Maker of the stars.
Shall we look now at the stars in winter, and call them sweeter friends, because of the story of a mother and a child is never told with the stars being left out?
It is a Holy Night now descending, when a child issues out of the darkness, and emerges into the unknown, into starlight?
Down the winter evening sky, when a woman hovers between two great doorways, between entry and exit, between pain and laughter, joy and weeping, do those silver white lines that form on face and heart, come from those holy stars? …
Shall all the wanderers over all the earth, all the homeless ones, all against whom, the doors are shut and words are spoken- Shall these people find the earth less strange tonight?
Shall they hear the news, a whisper on the night wind? ” A child is born…. The meek shall inherit the earth” … .
Shall this quiet dome of stars high over, make signs, and offer a friendly language among the nations? Shall nations gather with no clenched fists at all, and look into one another’s faces , and see eye to eye, and find ever new testaments of [humanity] as sojourners who toil toward new understanding?
Shall there be more believers, and more believers of sunset and moonrise, of noon set and dawn, of wheeling galaxies of stars, wheels within wheels of revelation?
Shall people’s tumult, grandeur, fanfare, panoply, prepared loud noises now stand equal to the quiet heart, gentle thoughts, and vast dreams of humankind’s ability to conquer the earth by first conquering themselves?
Is there time, time for ancient genius to be set in comparison with modern generations? Is there time for stripping the adult wrappings of life
Down to simple, profound, childlike questions?
On a Holy Night we may say: The Creator of the night and of birth, is also the Maker of the stars.
4) A Christmas Prayer
Our Father/Mother God, that which is the source of all good, all gifts, and all graces in our lives; On this Holy Night, may we, at least for a moment, turn aside from this unquiet world, and seek a restful affirmation for our spirits…
Tonight, we find ourselves separated from others, living in a sorely divided country, where both the wages of war and the cost of our worldly cares hold us captive, and we are held to its selfish ambitions and outcomes…
In this sacred darkness, we bring our wounds to be healed, our hopes to be renewed, and through the timeless message of Christmas, we bring our desire to live more inspired, meaningful and peaceful lives;
This is a night of noble and gracious remembrance, we can recall all that is good , all that is holy in our lives. It is a night of renewal, of hope and
For the recognition of the promise of lives well lived, and its outcomes…
We gather here and together, to restore our hopes, and to renew our joy…. On this night of nights, we can begin to mend our broken parts, and live with a more trusting spirit and a more grateful heart for all the blessings we have received, and will receive by first caring about others…
With faith in one another, with hope for the infinite possibilities that lie within and among us, we come together this night, knowing full well
That we cry, we laugh, we love as one. That our hope for our world is not separate from our hopes for ourselves, and for one another, that peace begins with each of us, and that the love and caring for one another and our world, that love heals our doubts and calms our fears, is being born within and among us…. AMen…So Be It
Homily: The Bethlehem Within
…The town of Bethlehem, during Biblical times, was a meager place- somewhat desolate and forlorn, more of a decrepit village, a modest and almost barren place for one’s home address. By all accounts, it seemed to be a place that lacked luster, or the promise of any new life. Yet, it is essential to our human understanding of life and its mysteries, that this unassuming spot would be a highly unlikely place for a Jewish Messiah to be born!
Yet, prophecy and divine wisdom have often confounded common sense. The gracious is often hidden in the most ordinary of places. You see, faith, at its core, is a fearless leap into the unknown, into mystery, and across the chasm of doubt. Such faith impels us to jump, in search of inner answers and deeper meanings than mere logic bestows.
The Christmas story is just such an occasion. We are asked to accept the irrational and the unexplainable and hold these things in a holy paradox; to keep its mysteries, and let its meaning reveal itself through a deeper comprehension of its inner story- that is, by allowing yourselves to find a childlike hope, and to give it a place in your heart.
At this holy time of the year, we can rediscover Bethlehem as a special birthplace for our hearts. At Christmas, the essential and inclusive message is that the love that is symbolized in the birth of the Christ-child is renewed in you every year… That we are given this timeless opportunity to rebirth ourselves in heart and soul.
When Christmas and Bethlehem are perceived in this way, its truth goes beyond historical facts: It becomes a holiday for our humanity- It becomes a time that restores hope, peace and joy to its rightful place- the center of our lives, and the place where our motives give birth to our feelings of compassion.
Through this historical event, and throughout the birth story, and its legends and lessons, we can often feel emotionally impelled to revisit those formative places in our hearts: neighborhoods, memories, family ties, and then through our reflections, find and rekindle our faith and our gratitude.
In that way, we relive and embody the Christmas story more personally, and can find places in our own story that can help us to bear its meaning, and to connect to its trials, its seeming impossibilities, and to its evident graces, and thereby give birth to greater hope and joy in your lives..
Christmas lives on as more than a sentimental ritual, whenever we see and discover that there is a Bethlehem with each of us. With our own childlike openness, we capture the promises and possibilities of our lives, at any age!
May this Christmas be experienced as the renewal of hope and the recalling of the blessing you have received as part of your own family and as a part of this church community. May it become a renewal of the birthright of caring for oneself and for our world in better and larger ways; giving vitality to humility, conscience to our character, and greater purpose to our mission.
Lastly, may the inspiration of candles and carols, of music and meaning, Allow you to recall that your spiritual home is first found by your willingness to accept and to create a Bethlehem in your hearts….
Whatever faith we have, Christmas confirms it;
Whatever hope there is in us, Christmas exalts it;
Whatever love abides or is shared among us, Christmas makes it
more tender, and more deep.
Merry Christmas! Blessed Be! So be It!